Voices Out Loud

Chris Rock was amazing at the Oscars last night. It was a tough if not near impossible job to write and deliver jokes about a very serious issue: diversity in Hollywood specifically, but more broadly, the larger racial divide ingrained in our American culture that limits true opportunity and growth. His performance will have people talking for awhile and with good reason.

Another powerful moment from the evening: Lady Gaga. I had chills and tears and all the uncomfortable reality that was her performance and what it means. Her song, “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus rape in the United States, was a stirring moment giving voice to silent victims, many of whom stood on stage with her last night.

Then Spotlight took the somewhat surprising win for Best Picture. A film about real-life journalists doggedly pursuing a story of the Catholic church’s cover-up of child molestation in Boston. Not only is it a story that lauds real reporting and journalism, but speaks up for the child victims of an unspeakable horror.

Buried in the middle somewhere was the powerful statement from documentary short subject winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy that her film, Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about honor killings inspired the Pakistani government to take action against this horrific violence.

These are voices that all need to be heard. Desperately. Stories about real deep, dark truths that affect countless people across the globe. Movies, books, music, theater, dance. The arts all seek to illuminate a greater truth, to tell an untold story, to give voice to the voiceless. And we are all better for hearing and seeing these stories.

On this eve to Super Tuesday I was greeted by numerous television ads this morning attempting to sway our votes. These ads all spoke of fear and pointed fingers of blame at their opponents. The touchstones weren’t hope, they were anger and anxiety, name calling and vitriol. What a strange counterpoint to an evening where stories about overcoming, about hope, about joy, about change, about acceptance, about accountability were celebrated. Yes, these stories point out problems. Yes, these stories are not solutions. But no, these stories are not meant to send us cowering into bunkers or heading for borders to escape the decline of the American state. These stories give voice to those unable to speak for themselves. This election? So far, all I can tell is that it’s allowing more loud and angry voices to perpetuate the same rhetoric of fear that keeps the real voices silenced.

The real voices. Our voices.

I, for one, am tired of hearing the same voices over and over again. I stand with those whose voices are whispered in the quiet space. The voices of calm truth often drowned out by the tornadoes of cynicism, misogyny, racism, bigotry and greed. The voices we heard last night were only a few of the small fighting amidst the cacophony. We need artists, writers, movie makers, and playwrights to continue to tell stories. All the stories. The funny ones and the allegorical ones and most especially the hard ones.

But as movie goers or readers or simply citizens moving through our own daily stories, we have an obligation to use our own voice.

Vote.

The voices are shouting at us. But we are part of the conversation. Unfortunately, we aren’t heard unless we use our voice. The out loud one. The one that can be counted.

Be counted. Vote.

Tell your story. Create.

We all have a voice.

Forcing Creativity

Writing a book is not a unique pursuit. There are many of us writers out there going about day jobs, pounding away on keyboards at night, at dawn or at the kid’s baseball practice. The difference between those that succeed in actually becoming a published writer and those that do not – I have been told and cling to as if these words might keep me afloat in a flood – is simply writing. It’s that easy. One verb: write.

I have an E.L. Doctrow quote pinned over my desk that says:

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you are doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.

E.L. Doctrow

Or, as the old Yoda adage goes:

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda

And yet, for some reason, writers still find this hard. I, for one, now picture myself doing nothing but this job of writing and yet each morning I sit down at my computer and think “Oh, God. Not this again. I suck at this. I should go scrub the shower instead. Or get a “real job.” Or maybe take a nap.”

Instead, I try to start typing. Sometimes it works (yesterday I knocked out 1,300 words in two hours – hooray!). Sometimes it doesn’t (the day I wrote one sentence in two hours- ouch). But even when it isn’t working, I’m working. I’m there, committed, waiting for the muse, the inspiration, the tiny train of thought that will show me where we’re going.

Can you force creativity? Can you demand that inspiration join you on the page? How much of a creative pursuit is in our own control versus the elusive muse? And what happens if she doesn’t show up?

Creating, whether it’s writing or painting or photography or building, takes practice, time and a whole helluva lot of behind the scenes work that you probably don’t want to know about. It takes commitment and stamina. It is not for the feint of heart. It is a soul-wrenching, doubt-whispering, self-flagellating process that leaves the creator empty and beaten until they take a step away. It’s in the step back, when we take a look at that painting or re-read that essay or reconsider a photograph’s lighting, that we realize somewhere in all that work there was magic, muse, inspiration. We then become Michaelangelo and must work to free the sculpture from the morass.

This month, I am working on creating the morass. I have committed to writing 20,000 in the current work in progress for the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association Write-A-Thin. I am no stranger to gimmicks to get me working. Back in 2010, I did NaNoWriMo. I am not the only one. More than 325,000 writers and growing participate in NaNoWriMo each year. Because sometimes you need someone to hold you accountable. Because sometimes you need a kick in the pants. Because most of us don’t have a Yoda whispering in our ears. But mostly because inspiration, magic, muses, whatever you call them, they don’t show up unless you invite them.

I sit at the keyboard again today and wonder will today be the day the words run out (no)? Will I cry (possibly)? Will it work today (maybe)? Will it be worth it (damn straight)? Thankfully, every morning when I drag my feet to the desk and grunt as I open the work in progress, I have a husband who reminds me “it’s not supposed to be easy.” And he’s right. Through all of the struggle, I still love it. I still love seeing that perfect phrase emerge in a string of keystrokes on my screen. I still love when my characters surprise me. I still love when I finally find the answer to what my protagonist does for a living and it fits so absolutely perfectly no matter how small a role it may play in the book. I still love realizing that two hours passed and I had no idea. I still love the potential, the promise, the process. Even when I hate it. Maybe especially when I hate it.

The point? We can’t all wait for inspiration to strike. It’s simply unfeasible. Yes. It happens. And when it does, it’s wonderful and fantastic and pure magic. But more often than not, we have to remember to invite inspiration. And the only way to do that is to start the work and see what happens.

This month, I’m inviting my muse to join me daily as I work towards my 20,000 word goal.

To all of you out there who are struggling with your own creative pursuits, perhaps you need a gimmick, a challenge, a Yoda to keep you accountable. Whatever it is, find it. Promise it. Pin it to your wall. Do it.

Writing is writing.

Do or do not.

I am right here with you.